May 6, 2020

By H. Joseph Price, Jr.

How many of us are waking up each day during this lockdown and thinking “When in the [bleep] are things going to return to normal?” I think it may be more useful to try to figure out if we have learned any lessons from this unique time in our lives.

The following is what I came up with as a first draft of Lessons Learned:

Procrastination. You need to be aware of the danger of procrastination. As we learned during mid-March, change may happen very suddenly. That task that you planned to get around to someday may not be possible to perform for a whole new reason: people or organizations you need to work with in order to complete the task may not be available.

Remote Access. You need to be able to accomplish tasks remotely. Some tasks that you can accomplish easily at the workplace with the cooperation of a couple of reliable assistants or fellow workers may be a lot more difficult to accomplish if those individuals aren’t in the office and may not return to the office for an indefinite period. Consider that in a metropolitan area like Kansas City, those people you have relied on to perform important tasks may live 60 miles away from one another. You have never had to consider that because they were just down the hall whenever you needed them.

Decisiveness. You need to be able to act quickly, especially when you are competing for scarce resources. Consider the Paycheck Protection Program. Those individuals who submitted their application quickly and got everything right the first time got their money. Those who put it off for a day got shut out, at least initially. Some may receive their money later but if it arrives too much later, the issue may be moot.

Changing Behavior. You need to keep an open mind about changing your behavior/way of life where your own life or the lives of those who live with you may hang in the balance. Whether it is moving away from an overly crowded environment or keeping away from individuals you know have not taken the quarantine seriously, you need to be willing to change things like residency or the company you keep if doing so is the difference between living and dying.

Information Sources. You need to have sources of information you can rely on. Even if the trusted source of information says no more than “We don’t yet know the answer,” that will be more useful to you than “Don’t worry about it” or “What do you have to lose (by trying it)?” The obvious example is obtaining one’s information about COVID-19 from Fox News, where certain of the announcers downplayed the dangers of the virus publicly while acting more cautiously in private.

Upon review of that list a few days after I came up with it, I realized that it was overly focused on how my work life had been affected by the lockdown. When life was normal, I spend most of my time listening to clients’ estate planning and business situations and preparing documents to deal with their desires or problems. Having done this for 40+ years, I developed a set of expectations about the order in which things happened and how long they should take to accomplish. Needless to say, COVID-19 has disrupted those expectations. And how!

To gain a broader appreciation of how the current situation is affecting people, I reached out to some members of my peer group asking for their ideas. Here is a sampling of the ones that are serious and printable on a family website:

Gratitude and Humility. I’m a freaking mental wreck right now and have some problems that look fairly substantial at this particular moment, but I’m not living in a three-room apartment in the Bronx with four kids who can’t leave the premises.

Patience with Others (and with Ourselves). A lot of people are freaked the [bleep] out for endless reasons. They don’t even need to be real reasons.

Kindness to Others (and Ourselves). See the preceding point. A random act of kindness could make somebody’s day – could even save a life.

Flexibility. Some “normal” methods and channels no longer exist. Many will not return soon, if ever. Time to get serious about life under new rules.

Exercise. Even a 20-minute walk goes a long way.

The Wages of Fear. Buy and take what you need – not what you want. It’s amazing how much [bleep] we buy (out of fear of future shortages) that we don’t use and never will.

Appreciation for Family and Friends. Cherish family and friends who give your life meaning in good times and bad.

Appreciation for Those Who Have Gone Before Us. Learn from history to see the struggles our ancestors survived.

Not Overdoing It. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. It’s better to do something now than wait until everything is perfectly in place or you have all the answers.

Reliance on Expertise. Listen to scientists and experts. They don’t know everything, but they sure know a heck of a lot more than the rest of us.

And here is a sampling of “lessons” sent to me that have less universal application:

Limes. You need to have 40 limes on hand at all times.

Meat & Isolation. You need to smoke meat at least twice a day to get away from your family.

Cleanliness. You need to buy a power washer. Everything needs to be constantly power washed.

And finally, items to keep on hand:

  1. Bourbon/ tequila – as good as you can afford
  2. Ice
  3. Limes
  4. 3x as much as you think you need of items 1-3 above